Members of the club Thursday Night Ride are dedicated to biking, skiing and hiking together every Thursday in Missoula. But they can’t meet due to social distancing rules, so members created a new weekly series to keep people active.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock enacted a stay at home order March 26 that affected over 1 million state residents. While the order encouraged people to stay home as much as possible, it permitted Montanans to recreate on public lands.
Before the stay at home order, the group originally sent out weekly meeting spots for rides. But as cases started to mount in Montana, organizer Aaron Baldwin changed the program.
“Sending out group ride announcements would be irresponsible and undermine the extraordinary measures our schools and small business are taking,” Baldwin said. “Instead of just shutting the group down, I decided to put out a route each week that people could ride solo.”
Baldwin implemented three new rules for the ride. He asked that all riders follow CDC social distancing guidelines, he requested that riders complete one bike ride per week and he asked that riders interested in being on the group’s leaderboard send him a message over TNR’s Facebook page or email.
“The leaderboard is just to help motivate people to get outside and exercise during this stressful time and give people a sense of being part of the group even if they have to ride alone,” Baldwin said.
The group’s first ride featured 21 riders who tracked and reported their times. Baldwin sends a weekly email to over 200 people.
Alden H. Wright, a retired professor of computer science at the University of Montana, said the move to biking alone has been easier for him.
“I am two weeks away from my 78th birthday, and I was about to quit riding with the group because I can’t keep up,” said Wright. “ Since there is no pressure to keep up with a group, I can walk when I need to.”
Wright has biked for 73 years of his life, and mountain biked with TNR since 2004. He also does research and teaches about the evolution of technology at UM. While the trail is isolated, and Wright says he is not at his peak fitness, he enjoys his time biking.
“These virtual rides have been a great way to continue participating,” said Wright.
In addition to implementing the new online leaderboard, Baldwin considered adding optional trail segments and requesting that riders take pictures at particular locations.
TNR explores mountain biking in the Missoula area. The group tried to select less-traveled trails to avoid large crowds that have been spotted around the city’s outdoor spaces.
Club members have biked the Sound of Music and Sidewinder trails, which are located in the seasonal North Jumbo zone. During the first couple of weeks after the city opens them, Baldwin said Missoulians flock to these trails to look at wildflowers.
“I intend to be even more mindful of crowds and busy areas with the Solo Ride Series,” said Baldwin. “The whole point is to avoid having a big group gathering together.”
Trails chosen are often long and involve some technical terrain. Solo ride organizers often pre-check trails to make sure they are dry and nothing is blocking a path.
The week’s trail, with a trail map and participant photos, is sent out Wednesdays.